The Golden Knights, Stealing Vegas

I don’t like tweets from other team’s fans on Twitter. Even when I like the tweet I don’t actually “like” it by clicking that little heart icon. It’s nothing personal it’s just that I’m all in for the Golden Knights. All in, even though I reside in the fiefdom belonging to the Los Angeles Kings.

I’ve never been afraid to go against the grain when it comes to supporting a team. Being raised in West Texas in my era you either played football or you were lower than pond scum. And if you lived in Midland, Texas you supported Midland High School or Midland Lee. No way were you allowed to support the Permian Panthers of Odessa even though their stadium was practically next door. And if you’re not familiar with how heated football rivalries in Texas can be, just read “Friday Night Lights” by H.G. Bissinger.

Living in Midland and rooting for Permian in those days earned me instant infidel status. I loved Permian. They were little guys, at times outweighed by 30 to 40 pounds a man. But they were well coached, fast as lightning and when they hit their opponents, the crack of their helmets could be heard rattling across Ratliff Stadium even amidst the roar of the massive crowd. Besides, they had that mystical, MOJO Magic.

Hooked on Vegas

I think the Golden Knights have that same kind of mojo. Straight out the gate, they’ve done everything right — from picking the name, to drafting players, to picking their uniform’s design. If that isn’t enough, just consider their coach Gerard Gallant, as in “gallant knight.” His name is a harbinger of good things to come and it reminds me of the time Arsene Wenger was appointed the manager of Arsenal Football Club and quickly led them to an English Premier League title. I mean how on earth can you find a team manager with a name that sounds like Arsenal? It was meant to be.

Gerard Gallant
Gerard Gallant (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

I still like the Kings, but it’s only natural that I support Vegas as I’ve been fascinated with the city since the first time my parents took me there as a kid. We were going to dinner at an Italian restaurant far from the glittering strip and when I hesitated to step out of the car to brave a looming dark parking lot, my dad hauled me out by my arm. “Don’t worry kiddo, this joint’s controlled by the mob and the mob doesn’t like bad publicity. No criminal’s stupid enough to mug a tourist on their turf.”

Wow! I was hooked. Even more hooked when I learned of the exploits of gangsters like Bugsy Siegel and the old hotels the Rat Pack used to haunt. Even more hooked when I read Hunter Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” And completely hooked after my first all-nighter playing Blackjack at the Golden Nugget. I started at midnight and stumbled out of the casino shocked to be hit by blazing sunlight when I was sure it was only two o’clock in the morning. Vegas doesn’t like clocks.

NHL Expansion Draft, NHL, NHL Expansion, Hockey
(photo: madlyinlovewithlife CC)

So, of course, I’m going to support their hockey team. My roots are in Vegas every bit as much as the early settlers described in Sally Zanjani’s “Devils Will Reign: How Nevada Began.” One of them set out for gold in California only to be repelled by the harsh Sierra Nevada mountain range. Bouncing back to Nevada he lived and died like a wild man, ultimately meeting his fate whilst drunk and bucked off a horse. That’s how I want to go out, like a real man being bucked off a horse. Alas, in this generation, I’m more likely to go out in some senseless tragedy involving a driverless car.

Are There Other Cities More Deserving Than Vegas?

So why should there be any animosity towards my newly minted Golden Knights in the Twitterverse? “Well, for one thing, there are more deserving cities,” my Beer League Hockey buddy reminds me. “Hartford, Connecticut deserves a team way more than Vegas. Or, how about Seattle? Can you imagine the rivalry with Vancouver if the NHL expanded to Seattle instead?”

Of course, I can’t argue with that. Even with their trench coat and comic book culture, Seattle fervently supports their sports teams. And the last time I traveled to Vancouver and told the Canadian border guards the purpose of my visit was to see the Kings give the Canucks a good spanking, they sent me to a waiting room while they dismantled my car. They said they were searching for drugs but I doubt it. It was only after I confessed that my favorite rock band was Rush and my favorite TV show was the “Trailer Park Boys” (both from Canada) that they softened up.

So, can I imagine a heated rivalry between Vancouver and an expansion team from neighboring Seattle? Yes of course, and good luck to any fan crossing into Canada that decides to make a smart-ass remark about the Canucks to the border patrol.

The Golden Knights in the Twitterverse

But back to Twitter. As I scrolled through the volley of shots being fired at the social media rep for the Golden Knights, my first thought was that they were just trolling. But as I read more closely, it became clear that besides the “other cities being more deserving” argument, Vegas is considered a team that’s stealing players. Of course, they’re bought and paid for, but fans are going to be upset anytime their favorite players are pinched.

Each time a tweet is fired off welcoming a new arrival, fans from the former team respond. Some are angry and their jibes ring out like jilted lovers: “Nobody wants this guy anyway. He’s bad news in the locker room.” Or, “He’s going to choke.”

Others are sad and I get it. To us sentimental fans, the players are more than just some weekly spectacle on the ice. They win for us, bleed for us, do our cities proud. They become part of our community, part of our family, and when they’re suddenly ripped away, there’s a certain sadness that follows even though sudden trades are part of the callous landscape of big business in sports.

Losing a player can feel like the car lover who is forced to sell the first hot-rod he ever built. Or the parents who lose their only child to an out-of-state college and suddenly find themselves home alone. Or even as extreme as a father giving away his daughter to marriage.

The twitterer announces that Marc-Andre Fleury has arrived. “This breaks my heart,” a Penguins’ fan responds.

James Neal arrives and Predators’ fans reply, “Take good care of Nealer. Wish he was still playing for us.” “Will always love our Nealer.” Another displays two sad-face emojis, “Take good care of him.”

Breaking my own rule, I click the tiny broken heart and like the tweet.